Racing in the Wrong Direction on Gun Issues

The most common type of gun confiscated by pol...

The most common type of gun confiscated by police and traced by the ATF are .38 special revolvers, such as this Smith and Wesson Model 60 .38 Special revolver with a 3-inch barrel. LaPierre, Wayne (1994). Guns, Crime, and Freedom . Regnery Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 0895264773. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The terrible events in Newtown sent my mind racing this weekend. I kept coming back to where we in Montana stand on preventing gun violence in our state. It was clear that we’re not just moving in the wrong direction on preventing gun violence in Montana we’re racing in the wrong direction.

The best way to illustrate this point is by looking at the work of Sen. Dave Lewis (R-Helena). Last session, Sen. Lewis chaired the Senate Finance & Claims Committee (the primary Senate budget committee), and, as chair, he slashed funding for crucial services- including mental health services. He and his Republican colleagues maintained that the state didn’t have enough money to pay for treating and providing support for those with mental illness (and some other issues as well).

While Lewis was busy slashing services for Montanans, he sponsored a bill that would have given tax cuts to gun ammunition manufacturers to “ensure availability.”

So in Sen. Dave Lewis’ world, we have enough money to give ammunition manufacturers tax cuts, but we don’t have the money to provide mental health counselling for Montana’s most vulnerable people.

While I do find Lewis to be one of the most detestable political figures in Montana history, this post isn’t about him. It’s about the fact that through their decisions, Montana’s elected officials are making our communities more vulnerable to the types of gun violence we’ve seen throughout the country over the past few years.

In the 2011 legislative session, there were 13 bills introduced related to guns and firearms. Only 2 of these bills could be construed as gun control measures. The rest would have done things to allow guns in banks, bars and other buildings. These bills would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons (simply by telling themselves they were allowed to), and would have even allowed students in public schools to bring guns on campus.

We as a state, much like the country, have to get beyond partisan dogfights over guns and gun violence, and have an honest effort to pass policies that will keep our communities safer. These policies must deal with not only rules about who, when, and where you can carry guns, but they must also deal with ensuring adequate mental health services for all Montanans.

I’ll be honest, I don’t expect our elected officials to display the courage to push responsible gun control laws. But I do think we have an opportunity to tackle the mental health aspect of the puzzle.

The Medicaid expansion that is part of the Affordable Care Act is our best chance to expand mental health coverage to tens of thousands of currently uninsured Montanans. This expansion is the part of the Affordable Care Act(ACA) that the US Supreme Court ruled states had the option of whether or no to implement.

Unfortunately, this expansion is sure to get marred by political games by Republicans who refuse to vote in support of anything related to the ACA. While Republicans may hold majorities in the legislature, Democrat Steve Bullock will hold the Governor’s office, and its bully pulpit and veto pen. He should use this bully pulpit and veto pen to ensure the Medicaid expansion is implemented in our state.

Governor Schweitzer accounted for the expansion in his final budget proposal, but thus far Bullock hasn’t said whether or not he’ll push for the expansion.

I hope that the horrible events of Friday will provide Bullock with a little more incentive to champion the expansion of Medicaid as a means of preventing gun violence in our state, without taking on a battle over gun control laws that he almost certainly cannot win with the legislature. If Bullock does this, we’ll begin to finally take small steps towards preventing gun violence in Montana.

Sandy Welch’s Bizarre Campaigns Ends Bizarrely

Image

Today, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidate, Sandy Welch, finally admitted to what every other Montanan has known for over a month: Welch lost. She finally conceded the race after she was unable to raise the bond to pay for a manual recount of the vote.

Now I know some will say that once a candidate concedes, especially in a lower-level race like this, that candidates deserve to return to private life without too much scrutiny. However, because of the way Welch ran her campaign, it deserves a postmortem.

The first question that came to mind upon hearing Welch was giving up her recount crusade was, “How much did this recount fiasco cost Montana taxpayers?” Welch held on to the hope that somehow she’d be able to win this election- right up until it was time to put her money where her mouth was. She sought an unnecessary court ruling saying she had the right to a recount, despite the fact that state law makes it pretty clear that she has this right, provided she pays for the recount. This lawsuit cost Montana taxpayers thousands of dollars. (Cowgirl has already covered her theory on Welch’s goals with her recount crusade.)

By asserting right up to the last minute that she was going to pay for the recount, she also cost all Montana counties time and money to prepare for the recount, as well as the Secretary of State’s office.

While the most timely questions is about the cost of the recount charade, the more important questions remains, “Why was Welch running in the first place?” Throughout her campaign Welch wasn’t able to give a coherent plan to improve the education and educational opportunities for Montana children. Instead, she focused on improving a few administrative issues in the OPI office–issues that Superintendent Juneau has already been working to solve.

While Welch hadn’t told Montanans why she wanted to be the top educator in the state, the current Superintendent, Denise Juneau, was receiving national attention for her work and programs such as the Schools of Promise and Graduation Matters Montana programs, while standing up to a dysfunctional US Congress and their Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” program.

I wish I had more answers about what the purpose of Welch’s campaign and recount crusade are. Unfortunately, I don’t.

Hopefully though, this is the last we’ll hear from Welch in Montana politics.

 

Tim Fox Fails His First Test

Image

One of the first tests for statewide elected officials in Montana is the decision on their top staff appointments. On Friday, Tim Fox failed the test.

Fox announced 4 straight, white men as leadership in his office, and announced a female executive assistant (not pictured). The most notable of his selections is Jon Bennion, the former lobbyist for the Montana Chamber of Commerce. (I’ll have more to say on this appointment in a later post.)

These appointments make it painfully clear that diversity is not a priority for him.

Now, diversity for the sake of diversity isn’t inherently valuable. But when you seek a diverse staff so that you have a broad range of experiences, histories and viewpoints you can make your organization–in this instance the Department of Justice–a stronger entity.

The Department of Justice plays such a huge role in the lives of Montanans that this diversity of experience would improve our state. For example, the DoJ oversees all the law enforcement in the state, and we all know that there has been a history of real and perceived racial profiling by law enforcement in tribal communities. By selecting these men as his senior staff, Fox doesn’t have someone providing him with a first-hand understanding of this issue, so Fox is incapable of making an informed decision to do something about it.

It’s important to understand that building a diverse team isn’t something that happens by itself. It’s something that takes work and a concerted effort to make it a priority. Governor Schweitzer is the model on this.

Anyone who has followed Schweitzer’s time in office knows that he has more Native Americans in his staff and cabinet than all previous Montana governors combined. This emphasis on diversity in his staff has paid off, as Schweitzer has enjoyed a close relationship with Montana’s tribal communities to solve some of the problems these communities have faced.

Schweitzer has also put women and members of the LGBT community into senior staff and advisory positions.

Hopefully Fox will take a page out of Governor Schweitzer’s book, and for the sake of Montana, add a little bit of diversity to his staff.

In other appointment news, I’m closely following Governor-elect Bullock’s appointments. We all know that Bullock stumbled during the campaign when it comes to LGBT issues. Hopefully, he’ll follow our advice and appoint some LGBT people to his staff or cabinet. We have several current and former LGBT legislators that would be fantastic choices.

That’s a dealbreaker

Image

Earlier, Bobbie posted an update about the Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance. And, in my first post on this blog, I’m going to strongly disagree with her on the preferred outcome related to the locker room amendment.

Bobbie believes that through compromise, this amendment could be modified to an acceptable level. I think this amendment is a dealbreaker and if it remains, is reason enough to oppose the ordinance as a whole.

Now, I want to throw a caveat into this assertion, and a little bit of wiggle room for me to admit that I might be wrong on this: I’m not a transgendered person; I will never assert that I know all of the experiences that a person goes through when dealing with the societal bias and stigma that transgendered people deal with on a daily basis.

That being said, I have a difficult time accepting an ordinance that could put any trans people in a more difficult position. Under her compromise position, Bobbie suggested,:

“the “locker room amendment” should be revised to preclude only those with socially inconsistent genitalia from revealing as much, from exposing such inconsistent genitalia.  To be clear, a pre-op transwoman could be excluded from the female locker room if she exposes her penis, and similarly a transman if he reveals the lack thereof in the male locker room.”

While I understand the sentiment that Bobbie is expressing, I don’t think this gets to the fundamental issue at hand. Currently, trans men and women often face a dilemma when deciding which locker room or restroom to use. This ordinance was introduced in order to make these sensitive situations more safe for all Helenans. I worry that this compromise amendment could leave some of our trans brothers and sisters behind.

Furthermore, there currently is no prohibition on trans people using their self-identified restroom or locker room. I worry that this amendment would codify a law which would leave some trans people in a worse position than when this debate started more than a year ago.

I want to restate though, I am not a trans person, so I’m not going to claim to understand the experiences they’ve been through. But, as a cisgendered homosexual person, I can’t handle the thought of knowing that my rights are being advanced, while the rights of others are being restricted in city code. That’s why, this amendment is a deal-breaker no matter your gender identity.

I hope that Commissioner Haque-Hausrath and Mayor Smith continue to oppose this amendment, and Commission Thweat changes his opinion on this measure.